Around the globe, the weight of climate change has become impossible to ignore. Greenhouse gases and myriad additional human-based pollutants have helped exacerbate the damage caused by climate change, and no industry or population has been left unaffected. As a result of climate change, the Earth’s temperatures are rising, weather patterns are increasingly erratic, and crop yields are on the decline.
Urban dwellers are especially susceptible in terms of experiencing the negative effects of climate change firsthand. The world’s cities are home to more than half of the total global population, who consume resources and produce waste at alarming rates. In Europe, nearly 75% of residents call urban areas home, a number that’s expected to steadily increase into the foreseeable future.
The rise of urban populations is troubling from an environmental standpoint, as more residents equate a greater strain on local resources and the natural world overall. As such, various measures have been taken to alleviate some of the climate weight of cities, in Europe and around the world. Alongside such forward-thinking measures as sustainable transportation and green building, city planners, policymakers, and residents alike are turning to urban gardening to help incorporate the natural world into cities.
By prioritizing green infrastructure, which incorporates urban gardening, cities can better adapt to climate change, and reduce their environmental impact into the future.
Measures Cities Can Take to Reduce Climate Change
Air pollution and waste are two of the most pressing issues in terms of the toll that urban living takes on the natural world. Plastic packaging, food waste, exhaust fumes, and more are daily byproducts of city life. Their sheer ubiquity is wreaking havoc on the natural world, as well as serving to compromise public health on an unprecedented scale.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the costs associated with climate change are significant, in terms of both economics and public health. By 2030, the WHO estimates that the direct damage costs associated with climate change could reach $4 billion USD. As far as your health is concerned, climate change is poised to compromise everything from drinking water supplies to pollen levels, healthy food access, and even our mental health. Infectious diseases of all types are also more likely to spread as average global temperatures continue their upward trajectory.
But there is hope, and it starts at the community level. While individual efforts to reduce climate change can indeed make a small difference, the problem has become so massive in scope that cities themselves must help facilitate change. Among the most sustainable cities in Europe, the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is a notable example of zero-waste initiatives in action and the power of widespread community action. As of 2019, 68% of waste in Ljubljana is recycled, and the city’s residual waste per capita numbers are negligible compared to the rest of the continent.
Incorporating Gardening into Urban Building Plans
In addition to adopting zero-waste initiatives, greater city-wide sustainability can also be achieved via mindful infrastructure. Green designs have been found to help preserve natural resources while also improving the overall quality of life and fighting climate change. Green building plans are those that seek to reduce or eliminate negative climate and environmental impacts. In many cases, sustainable urban designs may even create additional positive impacts, and address existing social problems.
For instance, incorporating urban gardening into building and infrastructure design is a smart move that has the potential to create a ripple effect of sustainable solutions. Green infrastructure considerations and smart urban planning span multiple disciplines, including social justice issues like affordable housing and healthy food access. Urban gardens can serve as a connection to the natural world, a sustainable food source, and may even bring communities closer together.
But urban gardening doesn’t need to be edible to make a big difference in quality of life. By simply planting trees, cities may see a pronounced decrease in what is known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect, which is exacerbated by global warming. In cities where UHI conditions have been reported, such as the Italian city of Genoa, mortality rates are on the rise, especially in the summer months.
Carrying the Weight: the Future of Urban Life
Climate change isn’t solely an environmental issue — it’s also a human one, and urban dwellers face the greatest health risk. Where your mental and physical health are concerned, your geographic location makes a huge difference. If you reside in a heavily polluted urban area, you may have already noticed how your surroundings impact your overall health and happiness.
To help counteract this phenomenon, it’s crucial that you spend some time in the natural world, and advocate for urban gardens and similar spaces. Whether you’re a lifelong urban dweller or recently moved to the big city, getting out and exploring can help keep you healthy and happy. This exploring can and should include green spaces like parks and gardens. Urban gardens thus serve a two-fold purpose in preserving the natural world while also boosting public health.
Humanity can no longer afford to overlook the detrimental impact of climate change. And as the world’s urban population centers continue to grow, city leaders must work to improve sustainability on a large scale. Prioritizing green infrastructure and urban gardening efforts may serve to alleviate the climate weight of cities and boost quality of life over the long term.
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